Middleton reaches magical 400-cap mark at HWL final

©: Frank Uijlenbroek / World Sport Pics

Holcombe’s Barry Middleton’s 400th international appearance ended in dramatic style as England clung on to draw 2-2 with Australia in their final pool game of the Odisha Hockey World League Final.

Speaking about his 400th game, Middleton reflected:
“Every year it seems to get quicker and harder when I just want it to get slower, but it was a great game and result for us,” he said before making reference to Australia hitting the post twice in the overtime penalty corner.

“It is nice to come out of it with a point when you have one like that on the buzzer. We probably need to be a bit calmer in the last few minutes to make sure we don’t give penalty corners away, and try to play as if it is the first 15 minutes. We rode our luck on the last corner and got away with it, but nice to come away with a point.” 

When asked about his feelings on reaching such an incredible milestone, Middleton said: “It tells me that I’m old, mostly! It is not really something I’m thinking about right now, it is more something I’ll look back on in the future and realise what it is then. I know it is something that when I am older I’ll look back on and be really proud about.”

In the tie itself, England leveled the scores with six minutes remaining through Phil Roper, Harry Gibson and his defenders kept out four penalty corners in the final minute of the game to deny Australia their first win of the tournament.

England had taken the lead early on through Liam Ansell but Australia hit back in the third quarter, equalising through Dylan Wotherspoon before Glovers gave them the lead.

The results ensured that England would finish above Australia in the final group standings with Germany and India still to play their final fixture.

Buoyed by victory against India two days before, England began confidently and opened the scoring with the game’s first attack as Ansell dinked the ball home after a good run by David Goodfield.

Lachlan Sharp’s 10th minute shot was superbly smothered by George Pinner before Liam Sanford and Henry Weir then put in crucial blocks to keep out an Australian penalty corner in the 13th minute.

The reigning Hockey World League champions continued to press in the second period but England’s defence held firm.

Middleton – only the fifth player to ever feature in 400 international games - pulled off a heroic diving block to thwart Tom Wickham in the 24th minute before substitute goalkeeper Harry Gibson made a smart save to keep out a Glovers penalty corner.

The pressure eventually told early in the second half though as Matthew Swann picked out Wotherspoon who swept the ball past Pinner to equalise, despite an England review.

Pinner then showed why he has been nominated as the FIH Goalkeeper of the Year with an incredible double save in the 36th minute to deny firstly a diving Jeremy Edwards and then Wickham’s follow up effort.

Wickham was then kept out by Pinner again moments later but the Kookaburras won a penalty corner on review and Glovers smashed it home to give his side the lead with just under 20 minutes remaining.

England began the final quarter in much more attacking fashion and won a penalty corner early on, only for Luke Taylor’s effort to be well charged down before Goodfield slapped a shot wide.

But with just six minutes remaining the ball broke kindly for Roper just a couple of yards out from goal and the midfielder nudged it over Tristan Clemons to grab a point for his team.

England then defended heroically to keep out four penalty corners in the final 30 seconds – the third one hitting the post twice – in a dramatic end to another pulsating game.

Germany, meanwhile, topped the group with a 2-0 win over India. England finish second, Australia third and India fourth.